Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Inspired by Smekens

I must admit that I was not that thrilled to be told I had to attend a two day training, two days after we ended school. I think all teachers know that your brains are not ready to be thinking creatively in the month of June. Very few teachers want to start planning for the next school year until they have at least a week to just do..... Absolutely Nothing!!

The literacy retreat I went to by Kristina Smekens was fantastic! I walked away with so many great ideas, and I haven't stop planning for the next school year.

One of the ideas I loved the most was using Apples to Apples for a quick experience in making inferences and citing evidence from visuals. I have lots of great activities and strategies for helping students build inferences, but I don't always put the time and energy into making them write about their thinking and I especially lack that most important standard of "citing evidence." 

Big Picture Apples to Apples is made just for this activity. It provides a green card with a word and definition. There are five random images and students have to pick the image that they feel best depicts the word. They then have to write about the picture they chose and cite evidence from the visual in their conclusion.

My school setting is very conservative, so I have to be very careful to monitor all pictures the students see. I decided to create my own version by using the green cards from our original Apples to Apples game and having my assistants (aka.. four children) go through magazines and cut out pictures. I will then laminate the pictures and students will have more choice and decision making in picking a picture that represents the word on the card.

I am planning to use this during small group independent activities while I am working with a guided reading group. It will be important to model this activitiy and provide students with the key words needed in supporting their opinion. Students should provide two reasons (evidence) why they picked that specific picture.

  • In the picture...
  • The picture shows...
  • According to the picture...
  • One example from the picture...
  • The photographer shows...

  • Their response should end with their explanation or interpretation of how the evidence they stated is significant to how the picture depicts the word.

  • This shows...
  • This demonstrates...
  • I believe...
  • Now I know...
  • This proves...

  • I am very excited to use this hands on writing activity in my classroom this year.

    Saturday, October 4, 2014

    Where Did September Go?

    I can't believe that it is already October! I feel like I was just setting up my classrooms last week. I am pleasantly surprised how smooth things are going so far teaching two different grade levels in two different rooms. Don't get me wrong, my house is not as clean as I want, I constantly feel that I have papers to grade, activities to create, and parents to call. But I must admit there were a few weeks before school started that I was having some reoccurring nightmares that I just wouldn't be able to handle it. Overall, I would say things are going well!

    I teach fourth grade in the morning. I have nine students. Yes, I said nine students.They work hard, enjoy learning, and generally make the morning pretty uneventful. It is nice to give individual help, really dig into topics, and be able to do those projects and crafts that you just wouldn't do with a large group. 

    I then have thirty minutes for lunch to transition to third grade ( I have learned not to make eye contact with other teachers, I don't walk through the office, and I keep my lights off if I really want to have the full thirty minutes....just kidding...not really!) Third grade is tons of fun. I have twenty students. I wouldn't say the mornings are boring, but the afternoons have lots of energy, excitement, and just moments when you shake your head. I love it! I have a diverse room of learners with different abilities and personalities. They have to be kept busy or they can find ways to entertain themselves. They are the group that do well in the regular classroom, but get the dreaded post-it note telling you they weren't behaving for the lunchroom, librarian, PE teacher, etc. We definitely have daily conversations about self control. 

    My only real fear I am still trying to overcome is the fact that I need to really get these third graders to the level I want them at for fourth grade. Either the old third grade teacher was absolutely amazing, or they will learn a lot during the year. I look at what they are capable of now and worry that they will not be like the many other students that have entered my fourth grade room over the years with a strong foundation of basic skills. I guess this a real hit at home moment of accountability and making sure these kids are ready for the next grade.

    I am attaching two pictures of my favorite things so far this year. Excuse the quality of the pictures...I had to get them off of my Instagram account. One is our third grade craft of a hermit crab. We did lots of research and reading before purchasing two hermit crabs for our classroom. Kids were so engaged in asking questions, researching, and making sure they knew everything about hermit crabs. They now anxiously await their turn as zookeeper to take care of feeding and caring for our classroom pets. 

    The other picture is of my fourth grade focus wall. I created it this year, and I absolutely love the accountability for me as a teacher and for my students as learners. This outlines what we are learning for the week, important dates and our weekly Famous Hoosier. 

    I hope everyone is off to a great start for the 2014-2015 school year!

    Friday, October 3, 2014


    Wow...I think I might have finally figured out how to do this.

    I am off today and I am LISTENING to the rain outside as I pay bills, catch up on the DVR and just relax. There is a large bag of papers to grade, but I think I will save them for tomorrow.

    I am LOVING that I have a lot of days off in October. I teach at a Hebrew Day School (more info in my blog). There are a ton of Jewish holidays in the coming weeks and I have lots of days off!

    I am THINKING about the snacks I need to get ready for my daughter's volleyball team. I bought cute cups that say "Volleyball Rocks." I am trying to think of cool things to put inside and how I want to wrap them.

    I am WANTING a date night with my husband. Work, kids, and running to a million activities has made this hard. I can't remember that last time we did something other than grocery shop or wait in a parking lot for a kid to finish practice. I am dedicated to finding a day this weekend to make this happen.

    I am NEEDING to finish my benchmark assessments for my third and fourth graders.

    TREAT of course! But I now realize that it should have been trick if I am not sharing a product. Wish I had some cool product to share, but I am new to the blogging/social media/product creation world. I wrote treat since my brain went straight to Halloween candy when I saw the option of trick or treat. How can you resist the small fun size packages? After an hour of figuring out how to save the picture, I didn't want to go back and change it to trick (Should have read directions sooner and paid attention). So....it is a small trick but it is keeping me sane at the the end of the day in third grade. I have a cup full of smelly markers. When we are filling out the planners I remind students that I am looking for the person who is being quiet, organizing their papers, and cleaning up their work area to pick the marker of the day for me to initial planners. I don't know what it is about smelly markers and being the one who has total control on the smell of the day, but it is working wonders!

    Saturday, August 2, 2014

    Claiming My Blog

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    Tuesday, July 29, 2014

    My Challenge with Books

    Wanted to repost this entry from my old blog. Hoping that I might be able to get some ideas for novels to use in my classroom.

    I just started blogging and Instagram in April. I thought I would use this post to tell everyone a little bit more about me. I taught second grade in the suburbs of Chicago for three years before becoming a reading specialist. After six years, I decided to stay home full time with my children. Seven years later..... after a move to a different state and four kids, I started to edge my way back into the field of education. I began supervising student teachers for three different colleges. I really enjoyed seeing a variety of schools, classrooms and teaching styles. I knew that I would like to have my own classroom again one day, and I started to pursue positions.

    I was fortunate to find a half time position that allowed my children and husband to transition back into "mom working." I have been teaching three years in fourth grade, and I have recently accepted the offer to teach both third and fourth grade next year at my school. 

    Many of you might wonder exactly what type of setting I teach in each day for this to be possible. My school is a Hebrew Day School where students spend half their day learning general education and the other half learning Judaic Studies. Many people always ask if I am Jewish. I am not Jewish, and I had a lot to learn my first years at the school. One of the biggest problems in my setting is finding books that are appropriate for students to read. My assistant principal directed me to the "Kosher Book List" as soon as I was hired. There are many books on the list, but you can imagine that there are still so many other books out there that haven't been reviewed. I have a lot of reading ahead of me this summer to make sure I can find enough books to meet the needs of all my learners, keep kids engaged, and expose them to a variety of genres. 

    My school, like all schools, deals with challenging situations each day. I think a unique challenge for me professionally, is that I have to monitor the literature so closely. They do not want kids to be exposed to boy/girl relationships, talk of religion, Christmas, goofy/inappropriate behavior being glorified, and books that focus on broken homes. 

    One benefit is that my students love to read! In fact, I learned very quickly that I couldn't send a novel home because they would read the whole book in one night. Not just one student, but every student in the classroom!

    I am excited for my new adventure in teaching both 3rd and 4th grade. I would love any suggestions of books you recommend for this age group that you think might be kosher. 

    Sunday, July 27, 2014

    Time 2 Change

    I never thought I would start a blog, and I have now started two blogs in less than four months. My new name and design reflects the adventure I am setting out on for the 2014-2015 school year. I am teaching fourth grade in the morning and third grade in the afternoon. I have been teaching fourth grade for three years at my current school. When I heard that the third grade teacher was retiring, I decided that I wanted to take on this challenge. I work at a Hebrew Day School where students are required to meet all of the state standards in a half day setting. They complete their Judaic studies during the other half of their day. It is really fast paced to get everything accomplished in three hours (notice the reference to my first blog.....fastpaced4thgrade) There are other challenges as well. I have had to learn about a religion that I am not familiar with. Each year I learn a little more about their customs, beliefs, and standards. The hardest part is finding literature that they can read and be exposed to. So, this year I am taking on 2 Grades and 2 Classrooms. The students will not move.... but I will!! Did you just get a sick feeling in your stomach thinking about getting two rooms ready before school starts?  I am getting a little anxious to decorate and organize the two classrooms. We just returned from vacation, so I am heading in early this week to start in on the challenge. Wish me luck! 

    I love my new blog design by Lindsey. I highly recommend contacting her at teachinminddesigns.blogspot.com if you are looking to start a blog or make some changes.